Welcome to Lviv, the cradle of Ukrainian and Polish football

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At one stage it seemed as though Lviv was perhaps the most doubtful of the four Ukrainian host venues at this summer’s European Championships. After all, preparations could hardly be considered trouble-free.

To hold a major football tournament in Ukraine and Poland without it though just wouldn't have been the same. Not because Lviv (pronounced “luh-veev”) is an elegant, tourist-friendly city and something of a cultural capital, or that Oleh Luzhny’s hometown lies close to the Polish border. Rather, it was in this corner of western Ukraine that the game began for both of the Euro 2012 co-hosts.

Football was introduced to Ukraine by British sailors in Odesa some time during the 19th century, with ad hoc matches being played by the Odesa British Athletic Club in the port city that piqued the interest of curious locals.It soon spread beyond the Black Sea and came to Lviv through the Sokol sports society in 1867.

A Leopolitan professor, Edmund Cenar, who had acquired the region’s first proper ball from Britain in 1891, published a version of the game’s rules, and along with his colleague Henry Jordan mapped out a development plan for Lviv’s schools. He was responsible for football being added to the regional fairs that the city would come to host.

This was at a time when Halychyna’s capital belonged to the Austro-Hungarian Empire and had developed into an important trading post, with merchants coming from all over Europe.

But at the inaugural fair in 1892, the football was merely an exhibition by a teacher and a few schoolboys rather than anything resembling a full-blown game. That would come two years later.

By then an actual sports stadium able to accommodated 7,000 had been built with a full-size pitch measuring 100 by 120 yards and it was there, on 14 July 1894, that two teams representing Lviv and Kraków contested what is considered to be Ukraine’s first official match, with Professor Cenar managing the home side.

Instead of two halves of 45 minutes, though, the organisers had decided to end the game after the first goal so that it would not interfere with the day’s gymnastics schedule.

Reports vary as to the crowd’s size. Some estimate as many as 10,000 spectators witnessed Lviv5’s Volodymyr Khomytsky, a 16-year-old student, score the winner after just six minutes with a right-footed shot past the Kraków goalkeeper. The Kraków team, perhaps unsurprisingly, had wanted to continue the game to try and equalise.

Lviv - as pictured in 2012, not 1894 - is a fitting venue for top level football

Khomytsky went on to teach physical education, rather than becoming a professional footballer. When he passed away in 1953 a small monument was made for his graveside detailing Khomytsky’s important milestone for not only Ukrainian football, but also Polish, too. A statue in Stryisky Park, where he scored, commemorates the match that last year the Football Federation of Ukraine re-enacted.

The sport blossomed after the original game. Lviv, or Lwów to use its Polish name, is where the Polish Football Federation was born on 25 June 1911 and it became an autonomous member of the Austrian Football Union soon after.

Its national side even played their first three matches in Lwów, whose teams provided eight players for these early squads.

They included Czarni Lwów, Poland’s first professional club, but the Second World War brought about much upheaval in eastern Europe and the region was absorbed by the USSR.

Lwów became Lvov (Lviv is its Ukrainian name). The city’s main team since Soviet times have been Karpaty Lviv. Despite being born out of a factory side in 1963, it took just six years for Zeleni-Bili (the Green-and-Whites) to win a trophy after they defeated SKA Rostov-na-Donu in the final of the Soviet Union’s cup competition. But they are yet to win anything since.

It seemed like tangible progress was being made under the stewardship of Aleh Konanaw with successive fifth-place finishes in the past two seasons; the Belarusian even took Karpaty into the group stages of the Europa League after defeating Turkish side Galatasaray in the play-offs. But in the year the European Championships are coming to Lviv they have endured a miserable campaign.

Konanaw was unable to arrest their slump at the beginning of the season and resigned in October, with his successor Volodymyr Sharan lasting just a few matches as Karpaty sunk to the bottom of the table.

Although victory in the Halytsko-Volynske derby against Volyn Lutsk in round 27 – their 200th in the league (only six other sides are members of the “200 club”) – did take Karpaty out of the relegation zone, it wasn't until the final day that safety was secured, and that was only because Obolon Kyiv failed to beat Chornomorets Odesa.

It seems all may not be well. Karpaty could start the new season with a nine-point deduction as they await the Court of Arbitration for Sport’s verdict on a thorny match-fixing scandal concerning a 4-0 defeat to Metalist Kharkiv in 2008 that has once again brought to the fore the oligarch rivalries that exist in Ukrainian football.

The Ukrainian national team have never lost in Lviv; Karpaty could well do with some of that luck rubbing off on them in the next campaign.